How Wet Is It? This Wet

Carvins Creek out of its banks at Hollins.

The walkway to Dana Science building.

On days like today–and most of this week–it’s difficult to find a place outside that’s dry enough for a walk of an hour or two, but I gave it a shot at Hollins University’s loop a little while ago anyway.

What I found was a lot of water, though not on the roadway surrounding the campus. Carvins Creek was far above its banks and just about every grassy area was ankle-deep soggy. Water stood on walkways and anywhere else where there was a recession.

The creek nearly hit the two bridges it passes. I’ve been to Hollins many times over the years and never saw that before. Here are some photos of what it looked like around noon today.

The foot bridge over tinker had yellow tape just in case the water overwhelmed it.

This is more of an optical illusion than a true photo of a tree. The foliage is mostly a vine.

Daffodils are breaking through the wet ground even as snow hangs around.

Hollins Production Challenges, Entertains

Co-director, Ernie Zulia, head of the Hollins Theatre Department, gives a precise assessment of “Fun Home,” which is on the stage through Sunday: The story “challenges us to see the complexities of the human condition.”

Hollins often does that with its forceful, student-led productions and “Fun Home” is but another feather in that particular theatrical cap, the one worn by a group that often sets the high standards for this particular art form in the Roanoke Valley.

The play’s title is not indicative of a comedy in progress. “Fun Home” is short for “funeral home,” which the father in the story operates (along with being a high school teacher).

Like so much popular culture these days, “Fun Home” has its genesis in the graphic novel, this one a semi-autobiographical tale from Alison Bechdel, which has been honored in just about every way it can be, especially with multiple Tony Awards. It is the riveting story of a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality even as her family falls apart and her father’s gay tendencies lead to his suicide (I’m not giving away anything here; you learn all this in the opening minutes).

Zulia and co-director Rachel Nelson, a Hollins theater professor who has focused her work on LGBTQ and marginalized identities, make this a universal story of family dynamics, personal struggles and the value of truth. This is an area where live theater is at its best whether overtly or subtly bringing controversial issues to the fore and treating them with the respect they deserve.

As is most often the case, the Hollins talent bin runneth over, this time with students who can act, sing and dance–like Nick McCord as Bruce Bechdel, Alison’s father, and a trio of actresses playing Alison at different ages (Anna Holland, a Roanoker and Hollins senior, Deirdre Price and Anna Johnson). Lindsay Bronston, a Hollins junior studying theater and music, becomes a scene thief (as Alison’s mother) with her lovely voice.

This is a powerful production, mixing important themes with occasional humor and a few tears. The lone problem I had with the production was that I often could not understand what was being sung or spoken. I’m not sure if it was a function of the sound board, too many people talking or singing (different lyrics) simultaneous or just what, but there were moments when I was left clueless as to what was being spoken or sung.

As always, Hollins fully understands the importance of theater and isn’t shy about bringing us the best of it.

The Tale of the Magic 442 Olds

My Olds 442 looked a lot like this.

I overheard a piece of a conversation Friday in Rocky Mount as I was pursuing a magazine story. A couple of white bearded old boys in overalls and ball caps were talking at Dairy Queen about their 1960s-era super cars. One had an Oldsmobile 442, which did a ca-ching on my brain.

I had a 1964 Olds 442 and I’ll bet it was faster than yours, I almost said aloud. Here I was 22 again and trying to set up a drag race along Tunnel Road in Asheville, my hometown and the city of my youthful extravagance. That 442 and I spent quite a number of late evenings in the cool summer air cruising Tunnel Road, sitting at Buck’s drive-in restaurant ogling the young women, and roaring between stop lights. As often as not, booze was involved.

The Pontiac looked a lot like this, without the woman.

I was not a good driver, but that didn’t deter my efforts toward speed demon-ship, something the 442 offered. This was the Oldsmobile version of the GTO, the supercar every kid wanted, but few could afford. I don’t recall how I came to own the 442, but it was a honey: black with a white leather interior, 4-in-the-floor and a big rumbling engine that won a lot of drag races before the light turned green. The other guys just assumed I’d kick their asses–whether or not this bad driver could do that.

This was what Herman looked like. Loved that little freaky car.

The 442 was something of an anomaly for a kid who owned quite a few cars as a teen-ager. I started driving late–at 18–but made up for it by buying cars. I’d own as many as two or three $100 rattle-traps at a time, knowing their time on this green earth was short and I needed backups. I once drove my 1956 Pontiac up to Banner Elk, about 80 miles, to take a friend back to college after a weekend and the car broke down just outside the entry to Lees McRae College. We went on up to the dorm, slept the rest of the night and in the morning called a junk yard. The owner offered me $25 for the Pontiac and I gratefully accepted, then thumbed back to Asheville where my little 1956 Nash Metropolitan awaited me, parked behind the house.

My green 1955 Chevy Bel Air would do a wheelie, but not for me.

The Metro was “Herman,” an ugly little devil if you ever saw one, but a fun car. It was a faded red and white, smaller than a VW bug and the front seats flopped back into a bed, which would have been handy if I’d ever had a need for a bed in a car. My love life was not what it might have been, however.

Around that same time, I owned a 1955 (or ’56, I forget which) Chevrolet Bel Air hot rod whose engine had been bored to 302 cu. in. and stroked (no, I had no idea what that meant, except that it was made to be a lot faster than normal), featured a Hurst 4-speed shifter, had really great wheels and a flake green paint job that glistened. This baby would do a wheelie in the right hands, which were not my hands. But, I got the looks. Lots of looks, especially when I gunned the engine at stop lights or just sat looking cool at Buck’s. But, not, I couldn’t drive it worth a crap, either, and wound up ruining the car and selling it for a couple hundred bucks.

I finally got married, had a kid, stabilized my sports writing job and turned up in a little compact Oldsmobile, kind of a puky beige. At that point, all that was left of my car fetish was the memory, and it remains.




Good Art, Good Company at WVTF

Miki Overcast-Kallan and Anna Wentworth in front of their works.

Anna’s Italy presentation.

You can pretty tell it’s mid-February when a packed house shows up for an art show on a gloomy winter’s night and celebrates like it’s July 4.

That’s what it was last night at WVTF Public Radio’s opening for Anna Wentworth and Miki Overcast-Kallan last night.

I didn’t know Miki before last night, but found her to be a delight whose artwork reflects that huge smile. I’ve known Anna since Jesus’ bar mitzvah, but I haven’t known her artwork to be as good as it has become.

Anna’s landscapes from Italy–and elsewhere–are simply lovely and I’ve always appreciated her presentation (often in panels). Anna has always been one who’s appreciated international travel (often with her sister) and she comes home with treasures–her paintings–she didn’t have to buy.

The show will be up for a while if you want to see it on the walls at WVTF. But you probably won’t get the food, wine and conversation that was available last night.

And Terry Aldhizer likely won’t be there to shoot your photo. Nor will I.

Packed in tight at the art opening. (No boys in sight.)

Miki Overcast-Kallan and her interrogation lamp smile.

Anna Wentworth: Venice in two panels.

WVTF General Manager Roger Fowler and his wife Stefanie chat.

The Lady in Pink is entertained by Terry Aldhizer photographing Miki.

An Apology for My Blackface Experience

Kathryn is behind me in our version of Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings.

The blackface here is my former wife Kathryn, who was playing the part of Thomas Jefferson’s slave Sally Hemings. I was Jefferson.

The host of the early 1980s Halloween costume party we attended in Old Southwest Roanoke asked us to show up as a famous couple. Kathryn and I narrowed the choice to Jefferson/Hemings, Rock Hudson/Gomer Pyle, and Bernie Taupin/Elton John.

Kathryn did not want to play a man, so we did Hemings/Jefferson. When we got to the party (the hosts were Hollins political science professor Jake Wheeler and his wife, Trudy), there were four other couples portraying Hemings/Jefferson, at least partly because there was a new book out about their relationship.

The people at the party were not goofball rednecks. As I recall, everybody was white, successful professionals. They weren’t stupid or overtly racist. It simply never occurred to us that what we were doing was wrong and there was nobody there to tell us so. We would have listened, I believe.

I never really considered the blackface as good, bad or indifferent until the bruhaha with Gov. Ralph Northam and now, I’m convinced we were wrong to dress as we did, regardless of what others did. I will take responsibility because I suggested Hemings/Jefferson, put the blackface on Kathryn and it was my suggestion that she wear it. Kathryn was and is a good woman, sensitive, caring and considerate. I am sure this would mortify her today if she has not forgotten it.

Tear this entire admission apart, if you’d like, but I apologize for my part in it. Sincerely.

Kathryn (in blackface) and Trudy Wheeler at the Halloween party.


Fu’s ‘Tiger Dragon People’ is Jaw-Dropping

Colette Fu with a detail from one of her pop-up books.

Miss Fu tells her story to a large crowd.

Colette Fu’s “We Are Tiger Dragon People” opened with a bang at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke last night. Colette is an internationally acclaimed pop-up artist, but in Roanoke, she’s Pearl’s daughter and that was evident with the nearly overflow crowd that showed up to greet her and appreciate her work.

Pearl Fu, of course, is Roanoke’s premier international ambassador and for 25 years led the Local Colors festival, Roanoke’s very best celebration of anything. It is a recognition of the importance of our international community and has had as many as 120 international cultures–all of whom live in the Roanoke Valley–represented.

Mom and daughter inside a giant pop-up, which was unveiled last night.

Colette is, however, very much her own accomplished woman. She is an inveterate student and teacher, facing huge challenges in becoming the foremost practitioner in her field of art. She began with a French degree, which she found to be nearly useless, and then discovered photography and eventually pop-up art.

Miss Fu talking about living in China for three years.

The Taubman’s explanation of her work goes thusly: “Sparked by curiosity and the desire to explore her roots, artist Colette Fu began traveling to China’s Yunnan Province where 25 of the nation’s 55 minority tribes live. While there, she was able to experience and document the customs of many groups, including the Black Nuosu Yi tribe of which her mother … is a member. The artist’s long immersion in the unique cultures of Yunnan culminated in a spectacular collection of intricate pop-up books and photo collages called We Are Tiger Dragon People.

“This exhibition not only follows Fu’s work in China, but also showcases earlier artworks inspired by unique destinations around the United Sates, demonstrating Fu’s process from photography to meticulously composed collages brought to life through lightboxes and three dimensional structures.

It took several people to open the big book.

Fu’s centerpiece of the exhibition is the world’s largest pop-up book titled Tao Hua Yuan Ji, which measures 13.8 by 21 feet when open. This massive paper structure, inspired by a Jin Dynasty poem about a secret utopian valley, depicts a cave ensconced in giant peach blossoms that Fu visited in 2008. Standing nearly 5-feet tall at its apex, the paper cave is large enough to crawl inside.”

She unveiled a large book to open the show to the delight of the crowd, which promptly crawled inside and had photos taken. The books, scattered over a large display area, were as long as 15 feet and as small as a coffee-table book, but each was eyebrow-raising in its detail and creativity.

This is a display that is well worth your time.

Colette Fu and another worker open the big book.

The artwork begins to emerge as cellphone cameras click away.

The ooo-ing and aah-ing are in full swing as the pop-up pops up.

Colette surveys her work.

Colette inside the pop-up.

This is the table-sized version of the big work.

This work is about 23 feet long and covers most of one side of the exhibit room.

Colette learned how to make the work at the bottom of this piece because she wanted a more tactile experience for the viewer. Her grandfather is responsible for the engraving at a real rock site in China.

The large crowd was duly impressed.

My friend Susan shot this of me in near-darkness at Colette’s talk in the auditorium. Her camera moved and I like the result.

Susan’s shot of me shooting Colette (my photo is at the top of this post).

And finally, Susan’s shot of me shooting more pop-ups.

A Fine New Book from One of Our Own

My new buddy Jane Fenton has added a sparkling novel to this region’s list of recent writer achievements. It’s Repo Girl and, truth be told, it is a difficult book to put down once you start. Actually, it’s such a fast read that you won’t need much.

This one involves a young woman embarking on a new job as an automobile repossession pro and her first repo is of a canary yellow Mustang at a wedding. It belongs to the groom.

The book is sprinkled with Andi Sloan’s adventures–culminating with finding a dead body and being accused of murder. It features a budding love story with her rock ‘n’ roll boyfriend, all set in the Roanoke Valley. Jane used to live here, but lives in Ferrum now.

Jane Fenton at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference.

I get a bunch of first books to read from would-be writers every year, but most aren’t worth the effort it takes to read turn the pages. Jane’s is as good as any novel I’ve read in the past six months–most from major publishers–and my guess is that she has a Big 5 publisher in her future, if she wants one.

Repo Girl is published by Blue Morpho Books, which Jane founded last year, and has already published several books. Entrepreneur and writer: seems to be the way to go these days.

I think Jane has a brighter future than a small press in a small town.

Jane’s book is available on Amazon and at Book No Further, Upcycled Gifts, and her  website

Barbecue from the Master

Dad at the pit.

Margie made some Brunswick stew a week or so ago and brought me a quart of it. We got to talking about my dad and how he was one of the great barbecue kings I ever knew.

Then, the unusual happened. Out of nowhere yesterday a photo of Dad making barbecue in a pit for a group of physicians in Augusta, Ga., in about 1958 fell out of a pile of papers and onto my desk. I was taken aback by it. It’s one of only a very few photos of Dad that I have.

Dad cooked open pit barbecue, laying the fire and staying with the meat (usually a whole pig) overnight, spreading on the sauce and turning the pig at just the right time. I can still taste the sweetness of it.

But that wasn’t all. Dad generally made Brunswick stew as a side dish and its taste lingers, as well. I have never in my life tasted its equal (sorry, Margie; yours was very good, but Dad’s was … well Dad’s). And, unfortunately, try as I might, I’ve never been able to equal its taste nor its wonderful consistency.